These recollections were part of an extra credit paper assignment for one of my world civilization history courses. Please note that some names and details have been changed.
The Assignment = Interview project. 100 points. Interview and record the views of at least five people who lived through, or participated in, one of the following: the Great Depression, World War I, World War II, the postwar Cold War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War or the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. Using the information in the textbook and the quotations of the people interviewed, write a short, organized three-page paper about the impact of that event on the lives of people in the world.
One of the unfortunate outcomes of the World War II was the beginning of a long, deceiving, and ruthless invisible war, the Cold War. I am a Bulgarian and I recently moved to the United States to start my education. Bulgaria, was a part of the Soviet-bloc and as such for many years the Bulgarian people suffered the effects of communism. In this essay I've recorded the views and memories of five people who lived during this period of time in the postwar Cold War which lasted in Bulgaria until November 10th 1989. Their recollections trace some of the significant effects of the Cold War in Bulgaria including the ruin of human lives on a political basis or as a result of forced work assignments, isolation from the rest of the world and the lack of important everyday goods.
One of the most harmful characteristics of the Cold War period was the ruining of human lives on a political basis. E* told me a striking story of the Cold War. “I was doing research in Bulgaria on electronics,” he said, “My friend, who was at that time a scientist in Germany, mentioned about my interests and a University offered me a scholarship [one of the highest research awards available at the time].” Filling in the application E* had to go to the president of the Institute where he was working at the time to submit it. Three months passed before he received a reply from the University. “To my surprise, the letter stated that they have not received my application and they asked me for an urgent response, because they have allocated the resources for my research,” E* recalled. Stunned he went back up the line of officials responsible for the submission of his application, ending up at the Institute’s president’s office again. He told my E* that the local Secretary of the Party was responsible for the submission of the application and that he had not received anything back from him yet. At that point E* went to the party secretary’s office only to be insulted by the official. “Why do you think we were going to let you go there at all?” the party bureaucrat asked, “You are not one of our [party] people. We did not even send your application.” Offered only this explanation, E* quit the Institute. It was not for another twenty years until the truth about what really happened was revealed. The party kept a secret, detailed record of everybody at the time. “A high school classmate, whom I thought of as a good friend, had reported me as a menace to the Party. I haven’t said or done anything considered bad. It was all based on a single kid’s words, with no evidence or justification,” E* bitterly recalled. This is a true example of the Cold War, in which everything had a hidden meaning, and when many innocent people suffered.
S* was another unfortunate person who suffered the consequences of the Cold War. “When I was little one of my friends’ father was sent to jail by the Party, and I agreed to escort my friend to the jail to visit her father.” S* related that this happened when she was in high-school. A few weeks after that, she was kicked out of school because of the innocent act of escorting her friend. She said, “I had to spend one year as citizen, before I could go back to school”. However, her troubles did not end there. After she graduated as one of the brightest students in her class, the Party refused to let her continue her education in a university and also refused to give her a job. She told me that at that point in time people were only appointed to jobs by the party and were not allowed to freely enter the job market. “My only other option was to get married,” she said. Uneducated and unemployed she became a mother of two children and was left without a job for over twenty years. Nonetheless she said, “I was lucky, because after the fall of communism I was able to work for twenty-five years, which got me just above the required number of years for pension.” Her life during the Cold War was another severe example of the political impact of the communist party. Communism did not distinguish between men and women, not even children. Anybody considered a threat had their lives slowly but surely destroyed.
Forced work was another big issue during the Cold War. Even people who were not a threat to the party, such as Ivan Petrov, had unpleasant periods of their life because of communism. “It was 1975 when I was transferred to start work as an agricultural expert in T*,” he started. “Those were some of the most unpleasant years of my life. There was literally nothing in the village - no electricity, no shops, not even running water [...] Supplies were carried to the village every two weeks.” It is not hard to imagine what impact this had on a person who grew and lived in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, a city with population of over one million. Ivan had to spend three years of his life without enjoying any of the benefits that civilization has provided us with because the party assigned him to work there and he had no other choice.
Indeed another effect of the Cold War was the isolation of Bulgaria from the rest of the world. A.A. recalled a situation when he had to visit relatives in M*, where they worked as teachers at the time. “All of my friends and people that I had ever come into contact with were interviewed and questioned before I was giving an outgoing visa,” he noted. For a person to leave the country he had to be issued an outgoing Bulgarian visa as well as incoming visa for the country he was traveling to. Upon leaving he was also warned that if he was absent from the country for more than the allotted period of time, he would be pronounced an “Enemy of Bulgaria” and not only would his citizenship be revoked, but he might also face severe punishments. “I had to provide a very significant reason to be able to leave the country and if it wasn't good enough they would've probably would never let me go,” A.A. said pointing out the extreme isolation of Bulgaria during the period of the Cold War.
Scarcity of normal life resources was also very significant for Bulgaria during the Cold War. Sofia Sofonova remembered a time when there were four generations of the family living in a single apartment. She said, “It was your grand-grandmother, me and your grandfather, father, mother and you in our two bedroom apartment. I had to go in the bathroom to be able to prepare for work because there was no space anywhere.” Naturally I asked her why my parents did not move to separate apartment, to which she replied – “There were no apartments available. Nobody was selling or buying; everything was full, and there was two years waiting period.” The scarcity of resources, however, did not stop with apartments. Sofia recalled a time when my father came back upset because he had been waiting in line for more than twenty hours to try and buy some meat. “There was always something that was missing, whether it was bread, meat or something else. To buy those rare stocks we had to use coupons, a lot of time, and patience.” This was a result of an artificial economy that was not developed on reasonable free trade principles. Trading and commerce were prohibited with countries other than those in the Soviet-Bloc, which had enormous effect on the people.
The Cold War indeed left its unerasable mark on many countries and people. Living during it was a nightmare leading to broken lives and missed opportunities. The impact it had on the people resulted in the ruining of many lives on political basis, forceful and government controlled employment, isolation from non Soviet-Bloc countries and scarcity of everyday resources.